Springtime in Paris June 4, 2013Posted by Tracy in : Uncategorized , 2comments
PARIS, France – We arrived at Charles de Gaulle International Airport at 8:40 a.m., but between looking in vain for our lost luggage, filing a claim, learning to negotiate the metro system and buying a local SIM card for the phone, it was nearly 11 by the time that we emerged from the subterranean maze for my first view of the City of Light.
Unfortunately, as we approached the stairway leading to the outer world, we saw it being pelted from above by fat raindrops. We had arrived during the latest, wettest spring any Parisian could remember.
I’m traveling with my 17-year-old niece, Aniqa Rahman, who just finished four years of high school French studies, which is already proving enormously helpful. We had hit on the idea because of her studies, and because I had discovered family roots in Normandy, where a friend from San Antonio had invited me to come for a visit. Put all together, it seemed that France was calling to us.
Ani had already taken a whirlwind tour of France three years ago, so she wasn’t as enthusiastic about seeing the Eiffel Tower as I was. But I would not be dissuaded by a bit of moisture, and she humored me. We found an umbrella seller at the top of the stairs and I bought one emblazoned with the word “Paris.”
We crossed the street and I turned to look up and see the iconic tower, just a block away and enormous. No sooner had I opened my mouth to exclaim, “Look! The Eiffel Tower!” when a speeding van hitting an enormous mud puddle to my right. The drenching was a cold wet shock and I think Ani might have preferred to head for drier quarters at that point, but she was a good sport. We had an 11:30 appointment with the Fat Tire Tour Co.’s Skip the Line tour of the tower, and I thought we’d be in and out and on our way in a hurry.
No such luck. We shared a $4 hot dog and a $3 coffee as we waited for our Fat Tire guide, who whisked us past the first line of umbrella-holding, shivering tourists, but inside we were met with many more – a line for each of the elevators creaking their way up to the next level, where frigid winds and a cold drizzle awaited us. I refused to let it dampen my spirits, but when we finally arrived at the top, shivered our way through a couple of photos and worked our way down, I was happy to be back in the warm, dry metro, making our way to the Belleville neighborhood, where my friend Diana lives.
Thankfully, the rain had stopped by the time we emerged onto the colorful and lively Boulevar Belleville. We stopped a pleasant-looking man to ask him directions and he didn’t recognized our street but gestured for us to follow him to a map a few paces away and tried to help us locate our street. We headed off cheerfully in the wrong direction and it took us awhile but thanks to the kindness of strangers we found our way.
Stefane, or Tchu, who is Diana’s flat-mate, let us in and made us feel at home. The flat was cheery and bright, with large windows and vivid colors. Pots of red geraniums accented the view, matching the bright red interior of Diana’s room, where Aniqa lay down to rest and I soon fell asleep checking e-mail. Diana found us curled up on her bed like two kittens when she arrived.
It had been five years since I met Diana and traveled with her through Jalisco and Michoacán, Mexico, on the occasion of our friends Alicia and Jose Miguel’s marriage. They had invited us to accompany them on a road trip for their honeymoon and we spent a memorable week together. Diana, a warm and vivacious free spirit from Madrid, was a delight to know; we found much in common and stayed in touch. She moved to Paris and got a job teaching at a high school. Naturally when we planned this trip, I reached out to her, and to my delight, she invited us to stay at her lovely home.
Unfortunately it’s her busiest week, being the end of the semester, so we saw little of her – mostly warm embraces and rapid consultations – but we prepared two dinners and enjoyed them with Diana, her new boyfriend Nico, and Tchu.
Highlights of our time in Paris included just wandering around the neighborhood, watching the Parisians and work and at play; a Fat Tire bicycle tour of some of the city’s highlights; a night out on the town and dinner with a dear friend and former student, Sara.
The Belleville neighborhood is a vibrant mix of working-class, immigrant, professional and artist, bustling with foot traffic and bicycles and tiny little cars. In my first venture out about the neighborhood I found several Tunisian restaurants, a couple of doner kebab stands, multiple oriental markets including a window full of roasted ducks, a Vietnamese restaurant and a tiny grocery run by a couple of Spaniards; an alleyway that had been taken over and painted and decorated from one end to the other by an avante-garde collective of artists and squatters; a variety of cafés, a tailor, a bookstore and a post office, and a community garden embellished with offerings by other local artists.
Ani and I spent a couple of hours in the afternoon at Au Folies, a cozy cafe where we drank delicious hot chocolate and worked for awhile. We had offered to make dinner for Diana and Tchu, and that became an adventure in itself as Diana had bought fresh oysters – and I learned how to crack them open and serve them with a lovely onion vinaigrette.
The next day’s bicycle tour took us from the Eiffel Tower to the Tuilleries Gardens, where the Parisians were out enjoying the first non-rainy day in awhile – the clouds hovered threateningly, but only a few drops fell. We went on to cycle to the Louvre and the Grand Palais and on to the Place de Concorde, where Marie Antoinette, Louis XV and hundreds of others met their end at the guillotine (formerly called Revolution Square, but renamed in the hope that a new spirit of “Concorde” would rein… which, certainly on this day, did). Our guide, Scottie, kept us entertained with bits of colorful trivia.
That night we prepared a vegetable curry for Diana and Nico, her delightful French boyfriend, and then joined Nico and some Spanish friends at Aux Foilies, which had transformed into a packed night spot with hundreds spilling out into the street, sharing good French wine and beer and conversation. We visited for awhile then took off to see the offerings at a nearby gallery, where the artist doubles as a grafitti artist by night. He was one of those who had taken over this alley and turned it into a work of art, and had taken over the space to display his more conventional work indoors. A couple of young Chilean grafitti artists joined him there along with a hula hooper from the Carcassone and we admired his sketches that had been inked with coffee and a castle constructed of tin.
Here are a few images from those three days. Now we’re off to the South of France and to Spain – a bientot!
Danger vs. beauty in the Middle East April 9, 2013Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Uncategorized , add a comment
Alfred and Joyce Goodman don’t consider themselves adventure travelers; you’re more likely to find them aboard a luxury cruise than a wilderness safari. Nevertheless, they came away from a recent cruise through the Middle East with stories that hearkened more from the pages of Sinbad’s fabled voyages than Travel and Leisure.
Israeli security guards kept a watchful eye as they passed along the shores of Sudan, and a fellow passenger regaled them with stories from a cruise in which her ship had been attacked by Somali pirates. Among the images etched in the Goodmans’ memories: a Bedouin guide raised with his nomadic family in the desert, a lost city carved in stone, and gold-trimmed minarets on a snow-white mosque.
For the Western traveler, the Middle East has always been a destination that thrills with the mystery of the unknown. On the positive side, it’s an eye-opening journey into another reality, one that is ancient and yet very modern. On the down side is the instability that has plagued the region, and never more so than now, in the years following the Arab Spring, as citizens struggle to take control from repressive governments.
Plenty of travelers, like the Goodmans, are taking the risks in stride and heading for the Middle East for the journey of a lifetime.
Top 13 Travel Myths for 2013 February 1, 2013Posted by Tracy in : Uncategorized , add a comment
As they planned their trip to Italy, Joel and Meredith Vela kept hearing from friends who’d been there: “Don’t worry about learning Italian – everyone there speaks English!”
Nevertheless, Joel got an audio course to learn the basics. The best parts of the trip were off the beaten track, in little villages where almost nobody spoke any English.
The misconception that everyone everywhere speaks English is one of many that can get in the way of the perfect trip. Personal-injury attorney Stephen Boutros recently discovered another one: A hotel’s “lowest available room rate” isn’t necessarily so. He discovered that by entering “hotel promo code” in Google you can find codes that will reduce your rate by as much as 30 percent.
Thirteen getaways for 2013 January 1, 2013Posted by Tracy in : Uncategorized , add a comment Now that we’ve all survived the end of the world, it’s time to celebrate – and what better way than with a fantastic journey into the unknown? Here are 13 destinations to consider.
1. Riviera Maya – It’s not too late to celebrate the end of the Mayan calendar at the AAA Five Diamond Grand Velas Riviera Maya. It’s Virtuoso’s pick for World’s Best Spa, inspired by ancient cultures. That, with its Caribbean vistas, would be enough. But Grand Velas also embraces an authentically eco-friendly philosophy. rivieramaya.grandvelas.com/
2. Upstate New York – What could be a better escape from the brutal Houston summer than a seven-story Victorian castle on a cliff overlooking the Hudson Valley? Idle away the hours in the spa or roam the 5,300-acre Mohonk Preserve; enjoy horseback riding, golfing, biking, carriage rides and old-fashioned lawn games. mohonk.com
3. Park City – In the winter, it’s the matchless powder; try the five-star, five-diamond Stein Eriksen Lodge, with ski access to Deer Valley Resort. In the summer, it’s a blessed escape for sweltering Houstonians. Hike, bike and check out the area’s gastro-distilleries, then take in an outdoor symphony. steinlodge.com, deervalley.com
My father’s hands December 28, 2012Posted by Tracy in : Uncategorized , 2comments
My father was a man who held a family together with strong yet gentle hands. I held one of those hands as I said goodbye and reflected on all it had done for us – the same huge hand that had held mine as I took my first steps, that had cradled countless babies’ heads as he welcomed them into the world with delight. Powerful hands that had built the two houses where we had lived, cracked the riddle of many a frozen engine block, twisted many a bolt, lifted a wireless internet tower to triumphant verticality.
The hands that scraped the ice from many a windshield on a day like today, so that we wouldn’t have to. The hands that drove an hour early each morning into the city, to work in a factory, so that we could grow up in the country. The hands that took on odd jobs in the evenings, like the one that eventually would cost him his life, so that we could live in comfort.
These were the proud, capable hands of a man’s man, one who knew how to get things done and didn’t hesitate in doing them. Hands callused to the elements, to the rough tug of the pull cord that yanked to life a mower or a chain saw, or if it hesitated, to plumb its oily depths for the answer to the mechanical mysteries of its malfunction. Teaching a grandchild to thread a fishhook, cast a line, and celebrate the resulting catch; and always being the one to clean the fish at the end.
These hands, the knuckles gnarled with calcification, strumming the strings of his autoharp. Learning to play guitar at 73. Prying open the delicate links of a silver chain to reassemble a favorite necklace of a daughter or a wife. Beaming as yet another baby curled a tiny tentative hand around his big finger. Turning the fragile pages of his timeworn Bible or clasped in prayer, searching for the wisdom that would guide his day.
I let go the beloved hand with a final prayer. That the hands that created him now would cradle him with a greater love than our own. And that those same hands will one day reunite us all.
We love you, Papa. And we will never let you go.
Canada meets Wirikuta: Canadian author visits Birthplace of the Sun November 18, 2012Posted by Tracy in : Uncategorized , add a comment
Canadian author and activist Maude Barlow atop the Cerro Quemado with Wixarika leader Santos de la Cruz. (Tracy L. Barnett photos)
REAL DE CATORCE, Mexico – From the moment Maude Barlow passed under the crumbling stone arch and saw the first nopalera laden with red cactus fruits, she knew she was entering another dimension.
Accompanied by a retinue of Huichol leaders, activists and a wandering journalist, the Canadian author, public speaker and social leader was making her own pilgrimage to the Birthplace of the Sun. It’s a journey the Huichols or Wixarika people have made for over a thousand years, coming to reconnect with the ancestors, light the candles of life and pray for the balance of all life on Earth.
Maude’s mission was a different one. She had come to see for herself what was at stake in Wirikuta, this most sacred of Huichol holy sites, currently slated for exploitation by Canadian mining companies.
Holistic Holiday at Sea, Part 4 March 12, 2012Posted by Tracy in : Uncategorized , 2comments
Lino Stancich instructs passengers on the art of self-massage for healing on the top deck of the MSC Poesia.
THIRTY THOUSAND FEET OVER THE GULF OF MEXICO – It’s hard to believe it was just a week ago that I made this journey in reverse, catching my pre-dawn flight in Guadalajara, deplaning in Miami to find my Dad relaxed and rosy from the sun at the wheel of a rental car. A week since we found our way to Cruise Terminal 4 in Fort Lauderdale, to the 16-story MSC Poesia, to the Holistic Holiday at Sea, a colorful new community of people joyfully embracing a lifestyle that until now, I’d never contemplated adopting for myself.
I’d given up meat for my Dad, and even dairy for a few weeks – and giving up all animal products on a long-term basis seemed right and proper for my father, who is fighting a grim mesothelioma diagnosis with a self-healing approach. For me, however, it seemed unnecessary and extreme.
But that was before – and this is after.
Holistic Holiday at Sea, Part 3 March 8, 2012Posted by Tracy in : Uncategorized , 1 comment so far
When Dr. Martha Cottrell turned 50, she was a mess. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and severe allergies. She didn’t think it could get much worse – but one day, it did. She was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous lesion of the cervix.
“I was doing everything I had been taught,” she told the audience, an attentive theater full of more than 1,200 vegans and macrobiotics. She had healed thousands in her career as a family practice physician, but she didn’t have a clue what she was doing wrong in terms of her own health.
Healing on the High Seas – Part 2 March 4, 2012Posted by Tracy in : Uncategorized , 1 comment so far
Sunday dawned somewhere over the high seas, and we emerged poolside to find the yoga instructor cheerily calling out over a stiff ocean breeze: “Remember, surrender all resistance; we’re in battlefield conditions. This will strengthen your practice!”
A hundred pairs of arms reached for the sky as the last shades of pink faded away, and another brisk troupe circled the track overhead. “Just go to the edge of your comfort zone – remember, it’s vacation yoga!”
It’s morning workout time on the MSC Poesia, the chartered cruise line for the Holistic Holiday at Sea, and poolside chats are at a minimum – 1,200 cruise passengers are here with a mission, and I’m no exception. I’m here with my parents – Dad, who has recently made the switch from meat-and-potatoes guy to hardcore macrobiotic in an attempt to beat back a terminal cancer diagnosis, and it didn’t take long to find we’re surrounded by kindred spirits. For them, it’s not just a cruise; it’s a matter of life or death.
Healing on the High Seas March 3, 2012Posted by Tracy in : Uncategorized , 2comments
Freelance writer Tracy Barnett is reporting from the Caribbean from the Holistic Holiday at Sea, She will be documenting the holistic cruise over the next week through a series of blog entries. Stay tuned!
Gary Brunk, recently diagnosed with mesothelioma, is fighting for his life with a holistic health regimen, accompanied by his wife Judy (left) and daughter Tracy L. Barnett, a travel writer. The trio set sail this week with the Holistic Holiday at Sea, a macrobiotic healing cruise.
AIRBORNE OVER MEXICO – Six months ago, when my father was first diagnosed with terminal cancer, my friend Michelle responded right away.
“You should take him on the holistic health cruise,” she said. I dismissed the idea at once – in the first place, I don’t like the idea of cruises anyway – a floating hotel at sea, I’ve always imagined them. I’m an independent traveler who chafes at the cumbersomeness of groups of more than two. Besides, on my Dad’s rapidly dwindling retired factory worker budget, and my freelance budget, who was going to pay for it?
“Nonsense,” said Michelle. “You’re a travel writer. Pitch this to some magazines. You can do it.”
She was talking about Holistic Holiday at Sea, a cruise dedicated to macrobiotic eating, yoga, meditation and a whole regimen of wellness strategies. I contacted Sandy Pukel, the cruise organizer, hoping he’d give us a discount that would work with our budgets. He was reluctant. His cruises always sell out, he pointed out, and there’s already been plenty of publicity. But he left the door open, and I began pitching the story to magazines.
Meanwhile, Dad was struggling with the decision of a lifetime. He had paid a visit to the state’s best cancer center, where they had given him a grim prognosis, delivered by a cheery doctor named Maria in a rapid-fire technobabble: Mesothelioma, nearly always fatal within a year of diagnosis. With chemotherapy, he might hope to live a few more months. It was already probably too advanced for surgery, and radiation for the lining of the lungs was not advised.